A spring cleansing

GUIDING LIGHT - Rev. Fr. Benjamin Sim, Sj (The Freeman) - March 8, 2015 - 12:00am

The human body can sustain all kinds of strain, withstand extremes of temperature, and perform incredible feats such as those we see in the Olympic Games. It can endure abuses of all sorts for years before breaking down. Indeed, the human body can be maltreated in many ways and still be able to function surprisingly well.

However, this is true only for most parts of the body – but not for all. It does not apply to the eye, for example. We all know how sensitive the eye is to any foreign particle. One little speck of dust entering the eye produces a terrible discomfort.

In this respect, the human psyche is very much like the human body. Some parts of it are capable of resisting all kinds of stress, pressures, crises, losses, threats, etc. – while other parts seem to be extremely sensitive to any outside intervention.

Some people, for example, can take a lot of teasing, uncharitable remarks or even open criticism about almost anything without ever losing their cool.

But if you happen to touch on one particular area of their lives, which can be in itself quite trivial – like their taste of clothes, their complexion, their singing, their baldness, their bulging tummy, their lack of education, their income, or even their car, or their dog etc. – then “mapipikon sila,” those people will burst into anger. You have touched their sore spot!

Fr. Nil Guillemette, S.J. has a parable about a lamb. This lamb, like all lambs, was naturally gentle. But his gentleness was super. It went far beyond the ordinary gentleness of a lamb.You could say that he was the very prototype of meekness. In fact, you could do anything to that lamb and he would always respond with utter mildness.

One day a pack of hungry wolves attacked the flock. Naturally, all the sheep fled in panic – except one little lamb, who remained where he was, amiably smiling at the threatening wolves. When the wolves saw the lamb’s disposition, they immediately concluded they would make an easy meal of him. But in their arrogant self-confidence, they made a big mistake.

Just as they were about to pounce on the little lamb, one of them made a silly remark about the lamb’s mother: “Where’s your mom? Has she abandoned you in the hour of danger?” Now what the wolves did not know was that the lamb had lost its mother the previous month during a similar attack by a lion.

And on that occasion, the mother had urged her son to flee with the flock, while she herself had stayed behind to delay the lion as long as she could.Thus the lamb had been saved, but the lion had devoured its mother. So the lamb was still grieving from the loss of his mother – all the more so because he was especially attached to her, more than the average lamb. And so, imagine the feelings of this lamb, when the wolves started insulting and ridiculing the name of his mother!

Immediately, the image of his heroic mother came back to him. “How dare these creatures,” he thought, “humiliate and tarnish her memory?” This was just too much even for his extra-mild nature.

His gentleness suddenly changed to fiery indignation and he flew into a towering rage – the kind of rage, which increases one’s strength tenfold. Moved therefore by his great wrath, he turned against his attackers and began to charge them with all his might.

Well, to make the long story short, in the end the sweet little lamb killed every one of those wolves – at least as the story goes.

How was this possible, you might ask? Because his enemies had touched the most sensitive spot of his soul: his love for his mother. The parable of the lamb is, of course, a piece of fiction. But it illustrates graphically what does happen in reality to human beings.

Touch their sensitive spot and you get a violent reaction. This parable will help us to understand Jesus in today’s Gospel.

In general the Gospels reveal to us the mild gentle, caring and compassionate Jesus, to whom the children would flock, and whom the sick, even the lepers may approach.

Then why the violent outburst in today’s Gospel? The gentle Jesus says: “Come to me, you who are heavily burdened, and I will give you rest… for I am gentle of heart.”

Why did Jesus angrily drive out the vendors, from the Temple in today’s Gospel? Somehow the sore spot of Jesus has been touched. What is it? The whole life’s concern of Jesus was to do the will of the Father. And for the Jews, the Temple is the symbol and centre of worship. It is the most sacred place for the people. When Jesus saw the commercialism going on in the House of God, which is supposed to be the House of Prayer, he was upset. But what incensed him most were the exploitation of the people and the immoral use of power and authority.

Why did he drive out the moneychangers? The coins acceptable in the temple offering must be the temple coins, not just any currency. Therefore, people coming from the different regions must exchange their money to temple coins.

And this is where the moneychangers make a killing. The profit from the exorbitant exchange rate goes to the pockets of the moneychangers and the temple authorities. The law prescribes that the animal to be sacrificed at the temple must be “unblemished.” Therefore the temple authorities must inspect the animals to make sure that they are fit for sacrifice. If people buy the animals from the temple, they can easily pass the inspection, although the price of the animals may be 20 times higher than those being sold elsewhere.

Jesus came to teach us to love God and one another. The whole setup going on in the temple turned this vision upside down. Authority was used not to serve God and people, but to exploit the people.

This abuse of power could not sit well with Jesus. But before we start attacking the religious authorities of Jesus’ time, let us examine ourselves. We are meant by our baptism to be the Dwelling Place of the Blessed Trinity.

Do we try to make ourselves pleasing to God? Have we appreciated the blessings and gifts that God has given us in our bodies, the health, the talents and potentials? Or have we misused them for our selfish gratification, even offending God?

Instead of expecting us to go to the Temple of Jerusalem for worship, God has made it so easy for us to worship him in the Holy Eucharist. In every town and city you’ll find a number of churches for worship.

But like anything that is too familiar and easily accessible, we take them for granted. Many people come to Mass only because of the fear of hell, not for love of God. They do not put their heart and mind to what is going on in the liturgy. Their bodies may be in the church, but their minds are not. That’s why you find people telling one another their favourite “tsismis” (gossip), or their earphones hanging from their ears during Mass.

And the most reprehensible of all are those burglars, who use the sacred places like the church to victimize the unsuspecting churchgoers.

Psychiatrist Karl Menninger once asked a very wealthy patient: “What are you going to do with all your money?” The patient replied, “Just worry about it, I guess.”

“In that case,” Doctor Menneinger said, “do you experience much pleasure out of worrying about your money?”

“No, but I feel such terror when I think of giving any of it away.”

Doctor Menninger advised his money-sick patient, “Generous people are rarely mentally ill.”

Throughout our lives, we accumulate so many things that bog us down on our journey to God. Not only the things themselves, but also the pursuit of those things distract us from the real joys and meaning of life, and distort our vision of the world as God created it to be.

Lent (which comes from the old English word for “spring”) is the season for a “spring cleansing” of our spirits and souls – driving out of our lives whatever distract us from the things and values of God and restoring a sense of perspective in order to realize the joy and hope of God’s presence in our lives.

During this season of Lent, let us pray to Jesus, and let him clean and drive out from us and from our midst all the sellers-in-the-temple in us and in our midst.

May your Lenten discipline purify the Temple of God in you.

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